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The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  837 ratings  ·  183 reviews
Is there life after baseball? Starting from this simple question, The Wax Pack ends up with something much bigger and unexpected—a meditation on the loss of innocence and the gift of impermanence, for both Brad Balukjian and the former ballplayers he tracked down. To get a truly random sample of players, Balukjian followed this wildly absurd but fun-as-hell premise: he too ...more
Hardcover, 259 pages
Published April 1st 2020 by University of Nebraska Press
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Apr 24, 2020 rated it liked it
As a girl I loved baseball cards. Yes, I was one of a few girls I knew who collected- there were three of us that I knew of who belonged to our middle school card collecting club. Even in elementary school I would collect pack after pack of cards and carefully organize the cards by team in sleeves and binders. This process would take hours on the weekend as I meticulously filed the cards by year, team, position, etc. Brad Balukjian also collected Topps baseball cards that would come in a pack of ...more
May 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
Genuinely baffled by the positive reviews of this book.

Conceptually? 5 stars.

But the actual execution of this book was, for the most part, unsatisfying. Balukjian repeatedly calls himself a journalist, and hides behind "following the story" as a rationale for asking the players questions on topics that obviously make them uncomfortable, but there's no clearly defined journalistic assignment or project here; his stated goal is simply to ask them what life is like after being a professional athl
The concept of this book sounds very simple, yet it is one that is unique among sports books which are available. The author, Brad Balukjian, opens a pack of 1986 Topps baseball cards nearly 30 years after it was purchased (the book takes place in 2015) and sets out on a road trip to learn what each of the 14 players in the pack have done in their lives since the cards were issued. What follows is an amazing journey that the reader will enjoy while riding along with the author while he sets out ...more
Tom Stamper
Apr 12, 2020 rated it liked it
This is an interesting premise. Take a random pack of unopened baseball cards and try to meet every player in the pack. 1986 Topps. 15 cards. One Hall of Famer, Carlton Fisk. One player who had the talent to be an all-time great, Dwight Gooden. Cy Young winner, Rick Sutcliffe. Garry Templeton and Vince Coleman, two guys who were minor stars for a short time. Then a bunch of journeymen, Rance Mullinicks, Jamie Cocanauer, Randy Ready, Richie Hebner, Gary Pettis, Lee Mazilli, Don Carmen, and Steve ...more
Jul 23, 2020 rated it liked it
A 5-star premise, one of the 10 best book covers I have ever seen, ... and a below average to mediocre writing performance from an author who inexplicably thought readers cared about him rather than the former players he tried to interview.

This could have been good - random dude sitting at a game thinks back to his card-collecting days and says 'Hey, wonder whatever happened to these guys'. "I've had that same thought," says me, and probably tens of thousands of others. Had this been the end of
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is first and foremost about its author. The whole part about meeting the ballplayers is really just window dressing and underwhelms.

The book was published in 2020 but the events take place in 2015. There are unhidden spoilers below.

The target audience will mostly care about the baseball players so let's start there:

Each chapter begins with a forgettable epigraph, that reads like a bromide, relating to the player being highlighted followed by quick data about the number of days into the
Oct 14, 2020 rated it it was ok
Love the premise. Loved some of the subject matter, as many were players I either grew up with or knew of in the years when my attention temporarily turned slightly away from baseball (late teens/early 20s). The problem here is the personal stuff. It didn't resonate and felt like he was purposely indulging in some antics to just have something with which to pad the book. I'll admit, I wish an older - or at least more mature - writer had taken on the task. He sort of lost credibility when he got ...more
Jun 19, 2020 rated it liked it
In this book whose brilliant premise is only partly achieved, Balukjian decides to buy an unopened pack of Topps baseball cards from 1986, track down the players he found in the pack, and .... well, it isn't entirely clear at that point - would Balukjian hang out with them? interview them? some of each? An epic road trip ensues, with the author driving 11,000 miles in the summer of 2015 to track down the Wax Packers (his term). Among them is one hall of famer, Carlton Fisk, some other prominent ...more
Richard Johnson
Aug 21, 2020 rated it liked it
When on page 20 the author passed out drunk in a plant bed alongside a highway, I knew that this book would be just as much about his life as it would be the lives of the baseball players he would soon interview. And sure enough, his struggles and demons are an ongoing narrative, not parallel to but rather intersecting with the stories of many of his interviewees. At times these intersections enhance our connection with the players as they fade from the spotlight and walk once again among us eve ...more
Bob Walenski
Jan 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book! Of course I love baseball and had a childhood/young adulthood prolific with baseball cards, games, uniforms, teams and dreams. Baseball literally saved my life, more than once, just by being there for me! This is a second GREAT baseball book I've read in just the last few reads. ( 10 books back Mark DiIonno's "Gods of Wood and Stone" )

Balukjian's book is a pack of baseball cards come to life. He's a genii...a Svengali .....a wizard who randomly buys a deck of cards from 1986
Tom Gase
Jun 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very entertaining read about a great idea. Author Brad Balukjian takes a pack of 1986 Topps baseball cards and then goes on a mission to find the players across the country. Some players are more interesting than others, but this book is a page-turner. Really wish the author could have gotten more on a few key players (I won't spoil it and say who) but in the end I think he did his best. This book is almost John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley but instead of traveling with a dog, he's traveli ...more
Feb 06, 2021 rated it liked it
The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife
Brad Balukjian

3 Stars

I was disappointed in The Wax Pack. It wasn’t that the book was bad; it was enjoyable enough. It’s just that I expected something very different, and something that I think would have been considerably more. The concept grabbed me as soon as I saw the book for the first time: open an old pack of baseball cards and then track down the players pictured to find out what their lives after baseball have been like.
Feb 27, 2020 rated it liked it
The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife. By Brad Balukjian. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 2020. 280 pages.

The Wax Pack is a high-concept book for baseball fans. In 2015, Brad Balukjian, a natural history professor at Merritt College in Oakland, he bought a random unopened package of 1986 Topps baseball cards on eBay and spent his summer trying to track down the 14* players lying underneath the bubblegum. In 49 days, Balukjian put 11,341 miles on his 2002 Hon
Jared McNeill
Sep 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
It's a unique take on baseball, peering at the game's past through the eyes of a lifelong fan as he tracks down the players in a wax pack of baseball cards.

He weaves his own story throughout, presumably to compare and contrast his own life with that of his heroes.

His humanity comes out in his battle with OCD, something I can definitely relate to. I found myself nodding along as he described his symptoms. I definitely appreciated that.

Particularly troubling, however, was the story of Randy Ready,
Chris Mcgowan
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
(Oct 2020) - A very nostalgic book for me since I opened so many Wax Packs in the 1985-1989 time period. It is a neat concept - open a pack of vintage cards and seek out the players in the pack for interviews. However, this book is so much more than a baseball interview book. Yes, there are stories about these players from 30+ years ago with an update on what they are doing now, but the author does a great job going beyond the run of the mill of known facts about the players. This book really di ...more
Stephen Wilhoit
Aug 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow! I've never enjoyed reading a book more in my life. Maybe it's partly because of my love for the sport but this has indeed become my favorite all-time book, just like that. The premise is just a wonderful thing in itself and the author followed through wherever this venture took him. And much of it brought out fascinating non-baseball life-lessons.

I would sincerely love for all of my baseball friends, (from fellow broadcasters to coaches to other former players to serious fans) to read this
Kev Willoughby
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Standing Ovation!

Pretty cool concept for a book: open up a pack of baseball cards from your childhood (in this case, 1986) and then drive across the country to meet with each of the players from the pack (called "The Waxpackers"), interviewing each one of the them to ask them about their life after baseball.

What did author Brad Balukjian learn? "Most people have one life to make it count... baseball players have two."

This book would appeal to many different target audiences, including those who
Mike Schaefer
May 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Really wish we could give half ratings. This was a good 3.5 from me. I'd recommend to anyone that collects baseball cards or has collected cards or just likes baseball.

Listened on Audible and the author reads the book, which makes me wonder if I found myself judging him a bit harshly on things I might've glossed over if just reading it instead.

No matter, Brad Balukjian's non-fiction debut was entertaining, enlightening and provided a little escape back to the time when baseball players and spo
Kyle Lobner
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An outstanding baseball book, but it's much more than that. Balukjian hits a narrative non-fiction home run with his exploration of the lives of baseball players long after the spotlight. Even people who have no interest in baseball will find things to appreciate in this book about post-stardom life, fathers and sons and living through adversity. ...more
David Gao
Feb 07, 2021 rated it liked it
"Fishing isn't about catching fish. Baseball isn't about hitting home runs."

It's not often that I come across a book premise that causes me to think, "this sounds like a book I could and would write if I had to write a nonfiction book." As a sucker for baseball cards, esoteric baseball minutia and travel writing, I cannot imagine that Balukjian appealed to many readers more pointedly than myself. As such, I started reading The Wax Pack with all the giddiness of attending a baseball game with you
Allen Adams
Mar 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing

When I first heard about “The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball's Afterlife” by Brad Balukjian, my reaction was pure and basic: “God, that’s a f---ing good idea.”

Even after a decade-plus of literary reviews, I can count on one hand the times that I was legitimately envious of the idea behind a book. Not necessarily the best books or the most interesting books, but the ones with an underlying premise that spoke directly to me.

“The Wax Pack” i
Aug 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
The strength of Brad Balukjian's book is also its weakness: It is many things at the same time. The premise is simple enough. After purchasing an unopened package of baseball cards from 1986, the year he had collected cards as an obsessed pre-teen, he vows to track down and interview each player to find out what happened to each one in the last 39 years. The narrative functions on several layers. It could be an examination of the afterlife of baseball players, using these stories to comment on h ...more
Andrew Breza
Jan 22, 2021 rated it it was ok
Swing and a miss. The central idea behind Brad Balukjian's The Wax Pack--a where are they now roadtrip from a random collection of old ball players-- is clever. At its best, The Wax Pack offers vignettes of the different varieties of life after fame. In spirit it reminds me of One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten, which was one of the best books I read last year. A good storyteller keeps the reader's focus on the unfolding story, maintaining a li ...more
May 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’m generally a methodical reader, but this book was so engaging that I read it in one day. For those of you like me who were raised on baseball in the 1980s and had (and still have) loads of cards, you will be highly entertained. But, this book is about much more than baseball or cards...the players are humanized by their life stories and the way their experiences parallel that of the author. The author does a fantastic job of taking on and off the field events and asking pointed questions to t ...more
David Gramley
Feb 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed every chapter. I collected baseball cards growing up, and still have a few saved somewhere. But I never gave thought as to what the players are doing today! So, Brad Balukjian has done the work to find out. I appreciate that he strove to go beyond the obvious questions and gain an understanding of the player growing up including their family situations. This makes the chapters far more than baseball. In fact, the chapters do not have a lot of baseball stories. It’s the before and the a ...more
Joe J
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a person that grew up collecting baseball cards and following baseball, I can't put into words how much I enjoyed this book. It was a great concept to catch up at random with players that Brad found in a bought baseball card pack from his youth. I enjoyed learning their stories of what they did after their careers were over plus the story of Brad and how he connected with all of them on a cross country road trip. I was hooked from the first word and can't recommend it enough. ...more
Jun 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-books
This book was so much more than I was ever expecting. As a baseball fan and baseball card collector (who actually has a full set of the Series 1 and 2 1986 Topps card set featured here) I was intrigued, as expected, to learn some new tidbits and insights into the game and the lives of those who played it. The Wax Packers ran the gamut from virtual nobodies to superstars and their stories, brought forth to us by the author, all told us much about their lives as people and how they got to the Show ...more
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
While the idea (buy an old pack of baseball cards and track down the players randomly assembled inside) sounds lighthearted, the results are surprisingly not. To those of us that held those cards in our hands (and hearts) the smiling faces are of people who have it all together. Baseball players! But this book deals more with what happened to them after baseball. It’s a great book. Part inspiring, part cautionary tale. The authors misadventures make the book funny, his meetings with his father a ...more
Mike Harris
Dec 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting book - not what I expected at all, but that's not a bad thing.
Luke V
Aug 11, 2020 rated it liked it
A pleasant read, but a bit self-indulgent... it was cool he was able to meet and talk with so many former players, and i enjoyed his focus on their personal lives. They're people, and seeing what they do after this very short period of their life is fascinating. I found his criticism of players who wouldn't meet with him a bit off-putting. Celebrate the players who meet with you, no need to run down those who don't. I love the cover, it made me smile every time I opened the book. ...more
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Mt. Lebanon Publi...: The Wax Pack 1 10 Jun 09, 2020 01:03PM  

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Brad Balukjian is the author of The Wax Pack: On the open road in search of baseball's afterlife. He lives in Oakland, CA with his VCR. He is director of the Natural History & Sustainability program at Merritt College. His favorite letter is F, and he does not consider it weird that he has a favorite letter. ...more

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